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Programming the Urban Surface

I n recent years, anumber of urban projects in Europe liave fallen between the
traditional categoriesof landscape and urbanism. These works signal ashift of
emphasisfrom the design of enclosed objects to the design and manipulation
of larger urban surfaces. They also indicate arenewed interest in theinstru-
mentalityof design^its enablingfunctionas opposed to representation and
sCylization. Here, theterm landscapeno longer refers to prospects ot pastoral
innocence but rather invokes thefunctioningmatrix of connective tissue that
organizesnot onlyobjects and spacesbut also the dynamic processesand events
that move through them. This islandscape asactive surface, structuring the
conditions for newrelationships and interactions amongthe things it supports.'
I n describinglandscape asurban surface, I do not mean to refer to simply
the spacebetween buildings, as in parkinglots, planted areas, and residual
spaces. Neither do I want to limit the useof the term landscapeto whollygreen,
natural, or recreational spaces. Instead, I refer to theextensive and inclusive
ground-planeof the city, to the"field" that accommodates buildings, roads, util-
ities, open spaces, neighborhoods, and natural habitats. This is theground
structure that organizesand supports abroad range of fixed and changingactiv-
ities in the city. As such, the urban surface isdynamic and responsive; hkc acat-
alytic emulsion, the surface literallyunfolds eventsin time.
I n this sense, theurban surface issimilar to adynamic agricultural field,
assuming different functions, geometries, distributive arrangements, and
appearances aschangingcircumstance demands. This adaptability derives in
part from the planar character of the surface, to itssmooth and uninterrupted
continuity, but also from the equipment and servicesembedded within it. Thus,
if the goal of designingthe urban surface isto increase its capacityto support and
diversify activities in time^even activities that cannot bedetermined in
advancethen aprimarydesign strategy isto extend its continuitywhile diver-
sifyingits rangeof services. This is lessdesign aspassive ameliorant and more as
active accelerant, stagingand settingup newconditions for uncertain futures.^
Fig. 1 . The co n tem p o ra ry m etro p o li sa n en dless citysca p e. C- -
Alex Wal
The Contemporary Metropolis
Much of the reason for revising practices of landscape and urbanism today
derivesfrom the changing natureof cities. The traditional notionof the city as a
historical andinstitutional core surroundedby postwar suburbs andthen open
countryside has been largely replacedby amore polyccntric andweblike sprawl:
the regional metropolis (Fig. 1). Here, multiple centers arc servedby overlap-
ping networks of transportation, electronic communicadon, production, and
consumption. Operationally, if not experientially, the infrastructures and flows
of material have become more significant than static political and spatial
boundaries. The influx of people, vehicles, goods, andinformation constitute
what urban geographers call the "daily urban system," painting a picture of
urbanismthat is dynamic andtemporal.' The emphasis shifts here fromforms of
urban spaceto processesof urbanization, processes that network across vast
regionalif not globalsurfaces.'
The effectsof urbanization today are multiple andcomplex, but three are of
pardcular significance with regard to planning and design. First is the rise of
newkinds of urban site. These are the ambiguous areasthat are caught between
enclaves. They may even be so extensive as to constitute entire generic zones.
These might be caWedperipheral sites, middle landscapes that are neither here
nor there, andyet are so pervasive as to now characterize the dominant environ-
ment in which most people actually live.'^In contrast, the oldcity centers are
becoming increasingly themed aroundtourist andentertainment funcdons. A
secondeffect of modern urbanization is aremarkable increase in mobility and
access. This refers not only to the increase of private automobiles and trans-
portation alternativesthat, for many, encompasses afully fledged lifestyle
but also to the rising density of population, the increasedinstability of capital
andinvestment, andto the abundanceofinformation and media.
A third effect, andaconsequenceof the above two, involves a fundamental
paradigm shift from viewing cities in formal terms to looking at them in
dynamic ways. Hence, familiar urban typologies o[square,par\, district, andso
on are of lessuse or significance than are the infrastructures, network flows,
ambiguous spaces, andother polymorphous conditions that constitute the con-
temporary metropolis. Unlike the treelike, hierarchical structures of traditional
cities, the contemporary metropolis functions more like aspreading rhizome,
dispersedanddiffuse, but at the same time infinitely enabling.''
These emergent conditions demandthat designers and planners revise their
approaches towardthe making of urban projects. A renewedconcernwith infra-
structure, services, mobility, andwith the provision of flexible, multifunctional
P ro g ra m m i n g t h e U rb a n S u rfa ce
surfacespromises arevitalized rolefor thedesign professions. Thegrafting of
newinstruments and equipment onto strategically staged surfacesallows for a
transformation of theground-plane into a living, connective dssue between
increasingly disparatefragments and unforeseen programs.
Thereis, of course, arecent history to theseshifts. In the1950s, architects
and critics already wereincreasingly preoccupied with thelarger urban environ-
ment. Therapid spread of cities and theatomization of buildings across vast
landscapesreduced thedistinctions between city and countrysideas well as the
differences between places.' During theAspen Design Conferencein 1955, ihc
architect/ planner Victor Gruen exhorted architects to look beyond thelimits of
theindividual building to theenvironment, to thecontext in which thebuilding
was to function. Heproclaimed:
Architecturetoday cannot concern itself only with that oneset of struc-
tures that happen to stand upright and behollow"buildings" in the
conventional sense. It must concern itself with all man-made elements
that form our environments: with roads and highways, with signsand
posters, with outdoor spacesas created by structures, and with cityscape
and landscape." -
Gruen's context for theseremarks was his viewthat it was lessindividual
buildings that needed theattention of design and morethe landscapesthat
were emerging as cities dispersed across the region. His work was aimed
toward resisting decentralization and undifferentiated sprawl by creating new
nodes of concentration and focus. Perhaps it was his European background
that madeit impossiblefor himto accept theideaof acontinuously settled,
dispersed landscape.
By themid-1960s, theprograms for rebuilding European cities following
thesecond world war and American cities as part of urban renewal policiesstim-
ulated newthinking about large-scaleurbanismand landscape. Someof the
moreradical spectdations proposed newforms of settlement type. TheFloren-
tinegroup Superstudio envisaged acontinuously developed, artificial surface.
In their project Sitpersurface5, theformal deviceof thegrid was inscribed across
apure, planar landscape, providingboth ametaphor and an instrument for the
networks of energy and information that could extend to every corner of the
earth (Fig. 2)." In contrast, theprojects drawn by theBritish group Archigram
showed conceptsof plug-in communities and newinfrastructural support land-
scapes.'" Their agendawas not only to empower theindividual but also to stage
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event-structures that could bring about newmetropoHtan dynamics. Depicted
in manyof Archigram's ideas were individuals plugging into larger networks of
interactive information, education, and entertainment. While projects such as
Rokplug and Logplug proposed a transitory and flexible existence on the surface,
others such as Instant Cityproposed large-scale infrastructures to support mass
events and activitiesan image inspired, perhaps, by the emerging technology
oi rock concerts and festivals (Fig. 3).
The strategic aspectsof Archigram's work derivefrom the inherent flexibil-
ity of the designed system; parts can be added, removed, or rearranged at will,
accommodating a range of uses at different times, from mass exhibitions and
festivals one day to individual mobUe homes and gardens the next. These radi-
cal speculadons demonstrated tangible, urbaniscic techniques for making urban
environments that used emerging technology to achieve individual freedom
within newcollective structures.
A Field of Social Instruments
Many of the above themes provided an early inspiration to RemKoolhaas and
the Office for Metropolitan Architecture(OMA), based in Rotterdam. Since the
1970s, Koolhaas and his colleagues have continuously and critically developed
the role that program plays in the making of a project. More than awareof the
highly changeable and unpredictable characteristics of the contemporary
l E S C E H T
1 7 TI \f
19 EVENT 1 3 19
1 1 CHE5T a
F i g . 2 (to p ). Five Tales. S u p erstu d i o , 1 9 7 1 -1 9 7 3 . S o u rce: Superstudio and Radicals (Tokyo;
Ja p a n In teri o r, 1 9 8 2 ), 1 3 .
F i g . 3 (b o tto m ). Instant City: Sequence of Effect. Arch i g ra m , 1 9 7 0 . Th e d escent of th e event-
stru ctu re " i n sta n t ci ty a i rsh i p s" on atyp i ca l Eng li sh to wn i n te n si fi e s, i n fi ltra te s, a nd sti m u la tes
new netwo rks i n th e o ld , sleep i n g ci ty. S o u rce; P eter C ook, e d . , ^rc/v/g ram (Lo n d o n : S tu d i o Vi sta ,
1 9 7 2 ).
P ro g ra m m i n g t h e U rba n S u rfa ce
metropolis, these architects have attempted, in a number of ways, to push ideas
ot program toward more dynamic and productive ends. Program is viewed as
the engine of a project, driving the logic of form and organizadon while
responding to the changing demands of society I f the problems of urbanization
had been identified in the 1950s and 1960s and the newtechnologies for
rethinking these issues were developed during the late 1960s and into the 1970s,
then the specific development of newdesign strategies has occurred since that
time, largely under the vision and direction of Koolhaas and OMA. A seminal
moment in this trajectory of ideas occurred in 1982, during the competition for
the Pare de la Villette along the industrial peripheryof Paris.
One of the first and most daringof President Mitterand's Grands Projels, the
Pare de la Villette awoke designers to the difficulties of dealing with large-scale
abandoned tracts of land in the city, especially when the intentions of the com-
missioning agency were both ambitious and uncertain." The 121 acres of land
were left over from the old nineteenth-century slaughterhouse complex that
once occupied the site. There were many logistical problems, especially in terms
of site reclamation and modernizadon of services. This was further complicated
by a bewildering and exhaustive list of programmatic demands by the client,
together with a sense of uncertainty about what, how, and when different parts
of this program would be developed.
The problem, then, was less one of design in terms of styling identify, repre-
sentation, or formal composition, and much more one of strategic organization.
The surface had to be equipped and staged in such a way as Co both anticipate
and accommodate any number of changing demands and programs. OMA
responded with the superposition of four strategic layers for organizing different
parts of the program: the "east-west strips" of varying synthede and natural
surfaces, the "confetti grid" of large and small service points and kiosks, the
various "circulation paths," and the "large objects," such as the linear and
round forests (Fig. 4). The designers described their multilayered project as
a "landscape ot social instruments," where the quality of the project would
derive from the uses, juxtaposidons, and adjacencyof alternating programs
over time.'^
Rather than a fixed design, the project offered the city a framework for
developing flexible uses as needs and desires changed. The strips and grids
Fig . 4 . P la n , P are de la Vi lle tte , co m p e ti ti o n e n try. O ffi ce fo r M e tro p o li ta n Arch i te ctu re ,
1 9 8 3 .
Alex Wal
across surfaces, thepoint services, and the larger structures were designed to he
both responsiveand adaptive. The action of shdingone thing over another
allowed for quantitative changeswithout lossof organizational structure. This
framework of flexible congesdon, whose character and efficacy lies in its capacity
to adapt to change, set asignificant precedent in later formulationsof urbanism."
- One such formulation was proposed by Koolhaas and OMA in 1987 for the
newtown of Melun-Senart, France." This project reversestheformal and struc-
tural roles of figure and ground, buildingand open space(Fig. 5). Rather than
concentrating on the planningand arrangement of buildings, variously pro-
grammed voids are outlined. Thesederive hom acareful analysisof existing
conditions, habitats, historical fragments, existinginfrastructure corridors, and
newprograms. Together they form asort of massivehieroglyph, isolatingvari-
ous islands for future development.
The voids exerciseagreater effect on the subsequent built environment
than does the design of particular buildinglayouts. They provide a resilient
structure that can withstand the unpredictable political and eco-
nomic pressures that architects and urban designers are rarely able
to influence. Melun-Senart continues alogic that progressively
reverses the significance normally attached to buildings and
directs attention instead to the spacesin between. By incorporafing
the character and potendal of the urban plan in the designed char-
acteristics of the voids, the designers leavethe building sitesopen
and undetermined. Basically, anythingcan take placeon the island
sitesas longas thevoid framework is preserved. Aswith the Pareat
laVillette, the design is first atactical strategy, anticipating the
uncertaindes offuture development.
Mobility and Access: Surface as Collector and Distributor
The design and integration of newtransportation infrastructure is central to the
functioning of the urban surface. The importance of mobility and accessin the
contemporary metropolis brings to infrastructure the character of collective
space. Transportation infrastructure is lessaself-sufficient serviceelement than
an extremely visible and effective instrument in creatingnewnetworks and rela-
donships. Whereas the railroad stadon and the airport offer acentraUzed infra-
structural conditiona density that almost resembles the city, in terms of
Fi g . 5 . P lan n in g d i ag ram s, M elu n -S en art n ew to wn . O ffice fo r M etro p o litan Arcfi i te ctu re , 1 9 8 7 .
P ro g ra m m i n g t h e U rb a n S u rfa ce
services and programsthe moreamorphous connectiveweb of roads has
rarely been recognized as a collective spaceunto itself As theItalian architect
Vittorio (iregotti argues: . ..
Wearetrying to return a positivemorphological valueto
an attempt to reviveit as a component of thesettlement event and by
restoring theroad to thearchitectural realm| whde| forcing one's disci-
plineto consider theproblems it implies as its own s})ecific ones.'^
Onevery clear example, in answer to Grcgotti, is thesecond beltway of
Barcelona, completed for the1992 Olympics. Thenorthern arc, theRonda de
Dalt, extends between theinterchanges at theDiagonal Avenue(northwest)
and theTrinitat Park (northeast) and was designed by a team oi architects and
engineers led by Bernardo deSola(Fig. 6)."'TheRonda deDalt was conceived
to achievenot thehighest through-capacityof vehicles but thehighest capacity
of collection and distribution among local and regional transportation net-
works. Thedesign also created opportunities to reconfigurethelocal conditions
for newprograms and open space. This is especially the caseat theinterchanges,
wherenewtypologies between landscapeand building havebegun to emerge.
Thus, thesignificanceof thedesignof this highway is lessits scenic andeffi-
ciency valuethan theroad's actual capacity to stimulateand support newforms
ot urban space. This is achieved partially by thesegregation of thesectional
character ot theroad, with faster (regional) lanes in thecenter, flanked by slower
(local) lanes that connect with newfrontageand neighborhood streets. In some
places, the spaceabovethehighway is occupied by newpublic buildings, espe-
cially high-volumestructures such as sports venues. Newparks and recreational
areasare also designed into thesystem, linking onceisolated housing estatesto
larger public spaces. TheRonda deDalt thus demonstrates, in contemporary
terms, theforgotten idea of the 1920s parkway as an instrument of connecdon,
convenience, and mobility.
A second example of newinfrastructural design demonstrates howthe
spaceof mobility may also bea collective space. Among thenorthern suburbs of
Paris, between Sc. Denis and Bobigny, is a mix of industrial zones, largesocial
housing estates, cemeteries, hospitals, and areas of wasteground. Existing
transportation infrastructurereflects thenineteenth-century pattern of radial
Fig . 6 . Ae ri a l vie w, R o n da de D a lt, B a rce lo n a . B e rn a rdo de S o la , I.M.R U .S .A., 1 9 8 2 .
Alex Wa ll
extension and effectively divides communities into separate sectors. Between
1990 and 1995, the landscape architect Alexandre Chemetoffand the Bureau
des Paysages implemented the design of a newtrolley line runningbetween St.
Denis and Bobigny (Fig. 7)." This is a nine-kilometer line with twenty-one sta-
tions, and it is the first tangential boulevard in this areaof Paris, initiatingnew
relationships amongonce isolated sectors. Because of this newtransportation
line superimposed across the urban fabric, the project forms the basis for a host
of other urban interventions.
The tramline is, literally, alink that provides a coherent system across an
otherwise fragmented field. It comprises three series: the material of the surface;
the vegetadon structureof hedges, trees, and plantings; and furnishings, such as
bollards, fences, lamps, trellises, and seating. Organized in different configura-
tions, the families of surface, vegetation, and furnishings produce a contrapun-
tal effect in relation to the untidy irregularity of the surrounding
fabric. The integrity and continuity of these elements produces
not only an imageof public spacebut also the necessary environ-
mental condidons to support public activities. On a Sunday
morning, for example, the fine is crowded with French families of
African, Arabic, and Asian background makingtheir way to and
from the street markets alongthe length of the hue.
Chemctoff's design is a prime exampleof howinfrastructure
engages social and imaginative dimensions as much as it does
engineering concerns. It effecdvely integrates parts of the city,
reduces the marginalization and segregation of certain social groups, and stim-
ulates newforms of interaction.
An Inhabitable Surface
The design of large-scale infrastructures such as those discussed above provides
newconditions for other kinds of surface project. One such example is Eduard
Bru's Vail d'Hebron Park in Barcelona, completed in 1992 (Fig. 8). This is a
26-bectare site in the inner suburbs, formerly dominated by an oppressive land-
scapeof postwar social housing. Located directly north of the Gothic center
and its nineteenth-century extension, the park spans the buttresses of the
mountain chain to the north of the city. Bru understood that the beltway is the
best location for leisure facilides that serve local and metropolitan users. Thus,
Fig. 7 . S t. D en is-to -B o b ig n y Tra m wa y, Alexa n d re C h em eto ff, 1 9 8 8 -1 9 9 3 .
P ro g ra m m i n g t h e U rb a n S u rfa ce
the park is a collage of sports surfaces, routes, and park elements. In pardcu-
lar, the elaboration of the routes creates an intermediate landscape between the
Ronda (Paseo Vail d'Hebron) and the surroundingneighborhoods. As Bru
This movement means that when exisdngelements permit, the streets
become whirlpools, wideningand formingwhat we might call deltas in
the public areas of the park. The streets are asphaltic flows; they find
geometries contained between the intersdces and move accordingto
circle arcs and clothoids."' v
Bru describes a dynamic and changinglandscape, one where the demands
of changingprograms lead to a different readingof the site. Moreover, he reflects
many of these uses through newtechniques of material fabrication. In using
grass, wood, metal, concrete, asphalt, and recycled rubber fires in new and
unusual ways, Bru creates a lively surface that promotes a diversityof functions.
The automobde, too, is not excluded from this park, but rather fully incorpo-
rated into its design. As the designer describes:
Driving to a super-market car park, and spending
Sunday with the car door open, listeningto the radio
while the children play in the car park is a highly
respectable custom. Here, the users surround them-
selves with those objects most dear to them: the car,
the children, the radio. And they spend their Sunday
Waiting for Appropriation
The Netherlands, especially the city of Rotterdam, has proved to be a steady
source ot innovation with regard to addressingthe increased complexity of the
growingmetropolis. Partly this is due to the culture of the country, essentially
progressive and technologically oriented, but it is also due to the very real prob-
lemsof density and growth since the end of the second world war. The work of
OMA has certainly played a role in the advance of newapproaches toward
urbanism; rccendy a younger generation of designers also has begun to make its
Fi g . 8 . Ae ria l vie w, te rra ce s a n d su rfa ce s. Va il d 'H e b ro n , B a rce lo n a . Ed ua rd B ru , 1 9 8 2 .
Alex Wa ll
mark. Foremost amongthcse is landscape architect Adriaan Geuze
andhis pracdce, West 8.'"
The work of West 8 exemplifies the claims that landscape
architects may absorb urban design into a newly synthetic practice
of landscape urbanism. Rotterdam's industrial context and
Geuzc's particular aptitude tor large-scale strategic thinking have
contributed to the making of projects that support a diversity of
uses andinterpretations over time. Geuze prefers "emptiness" to
ovcrprogramming and argues that urban dwellers are more than
able to create, adapt to, or imagine whatever they want to. hi
designing for indeterminate futures, he argues, new urban con-
sumers may create and find tbeir own meaning in the environ-
ments they use. As Geuze writes:
The urbanite is sclt-assurcdandwell-informed,
finds his freedomand chooses his own sub-cul-
tures. The city is his domain, exciting and
seductive. He has proved himself capable of
fmding bis way aroundthe new landscape and
ot making places bis own.^'
If, in the traditional European city, the urban
sc]uarc was the place where civic andreligious power
was represented, then West 8's contemporary Bin-
-" nenrotte market stjuare and Schouwburgplein are
zones where the public appropriates and modifies
the very surface ot the city. These surfaces are extremely simple and spare, yet
they are designedin such a way that many different events can be supported. A
range of services andequipment is embedded in the surface andcan be appro-
priatedat any moment. This is especially evident in the Schouwburgplein, com-
pletedin 1996 {Figs. 9, 10).
This great .square is in the center of Rotterdamandis surrounded by the-
aters, restaurants, cafes, anda new cinema complex. As in many public spaces
FJg. 9 (to p ). Layered a xo n o m etri c, the S cho u wb u rgp lei n , R o tterd a m , Adria a n G euze a n d West 8 ,
1 9 9 4 -1 9 9 7
Fig. 1 0 (b o tto m ). View of the S cho u wb u rgp lei n , R o tterd a m . Adria a n G euze a n d West 8 ,
1 9 9 4 -1 9 9 7 . ,
P ro g ra m m i n g t h e U rba n S u rfa ce
today, the presence ot an underground structurein tbis case, a car garage
imposes constraintswith regard to weight and planting. Geuze turned this con-
dition into a positive by replacing the existing heavy paving with a new
lightweight metal and wood surtace. Below this surface construction are a host
of utilities and services, including lighting that produces aMilky Way of light
acrossthefloor at night. The square is also fitted with fence- and tent-post holes,
enabling temporary structures and coverings to be erected. The principal the-
atrical elements on the site arcfour 35-meter-high lighting masts, whose crane-
like forms echo the great structures along Rotterdam's docks. By dropping a
coininto a machine, people can causethe light to move up or down according to
their needsor whimsy.
2 4 3
Flow and Surface
A similarly conceived urban surface is the project for the Yokohama Design
Forumproduced by Koolhaas and OMA in 1992." The site is al the nexusof
road, rail, and shippingtraffic and is dominated by two large market-halls and
car-parking levels. Here, a careful analysisof the exisdng use patternsof the site,
incluiling vehicular and population volumes, revealed that the site was really
occupied only between the hours ol lour and ten in the morning; the rest of the
time, the site was empty. To maximize the use of the site over longer periods of
time, the design had to addressthe problemof inventmg new programs and pro-
visions. Thus, the surface is itself folded or warped in order to create a continu-
ous field that is then impregnated with new elements and structures. This
concept enabled the design teamto propose a rwenty-four-hour use chart to
show a more heterogeneous mix of functions and activities throughout the day
(Fig. 11), The spaceof formis here replaced by the spaceof eventsin time.
Another scheme in Yokohama, ibis time
for the International Port Terminal and
designed by ForeignOffice Architects in 1996,
also produces a continuous yet differentiated
surface as a meansof reconciling the complex-
ity of the program.^' The various floors of the
pier are folded and rolled one into the other
through a building technology that allows for
the construction of continuously convex and
Fi g . 1 1 . Asse m t)la ge of p ro gra m s over I we n ty-fo u r h o u rs, Yo ko h a m a , Ja p a n . O ffi ce fo r M e tro p o li -
ta n Arch i te ctu re , 1 9 9 2 .
Alex Wa ll
concavefloors (Figs. 12,13). This form is intended to
mediate between thecompeting dimensions of the
programthe differences between land and sea,
natives and foreigners, city and harbor, and public
and private. Moreover, the changeablecharacter and
sizeof ships docked along thepier is accommodated
in aschemethat is both flexible and open. Rather
than atypologically defined buildingwith discrete
enclosure and limits, thedesign provides afield that
creases and warps to allow for alternate uses and
needs. The designers provided thecity with aproject
that is at once private and secure andpublic and
open, "amodel that is capableof integradng differ-
ences into acoherent system; anunbounded land-
scaperather than anover-coded, delimitedp/ ciT.?."^''
Surface Strategies
Theprojects considered above are all located inpre-
viously built sites, whether open spaceas in laVil-
lette and theSchouwburgpleinor infrastructure,
as inRonda deDalt or the^kohama terminal. Even theprojects of Melun-
Senart, Vail d'Hebron, and the St. DenisBobigny tramline incorporate and
link existing contexts. Rebuilding, incorporating, connecting, intensifying
thesewords describenot only thephysical character of theseprojects but also
their programmatic function. They areinstruments, or agents, for unfolding
newurban realities, designed not so much for appearances and aesthetics as for
their instigativeand structuring potential. Their strategies aretargeted not only
toward physical but abso social and cultural transformations, funcdoning as
social and ecological agents?^It is possible to summarize themoreproducdve
principles and strategies for designing theurban surface as follows.
Tkicf(ening. At theSchouwburgplein, West 8conceived of athickened, multi-
layer surfacethat solved not only technical problems, such as drainage, struc-
Fig. 1 2 (to p ). Aeria l view, Yokoha m a I n tern a tio n a l P ort Term i n a l, Ja p a n . Fo reign O ffice Arch i te cts,
1 9 9 5 .
Fig. 1 3 (b o tto m ). P la n s, Yokoham a I n tern a tio n a l P ort Term i n a l, Ja p a n . Fo reign O ffice Arch i te cts,
1 9 9 5 .
P ro g ra m m i n g t h e U rba n S u rfa ce
ture, and utilides, but also brought a greater dramatic etFect to ttic square while
multiplying its range of uses. The expansion of inhabitation of subterranean
networks in cities such as Montreal and Tokyo, and of aerial passageways in
cities such as Adanta and Minneapolis, effecdvely multiplies the number of
public ground-planes. The multilevel movement of people, together with the
connector flows of elevators, moving stairs, ramps, and so on, creates a mar-
velous spectacle in the city. This is the thickened surface, continuous, multiple,
and dynamic. -
Folding. Cutting, warping, and folding the surface creates a kind of smooth
geology that joins interior and exterior spaces into one continuous surface. At
the newport in Yokohama, Foreign Office Architects adopted a condnuous,
folded surface, as in a multilayered laminate wherein each floor "rolls" into oth-
ers. Sectional joining and definition varies as the programdemands. Conse-
quently, the flows of people and goods combine in newly visible ways, as
traditional zonal separations become more fluid and interactive.^'^
Newmaterials. Developing newand synthetic materials brings a welcome diver-
sity to the pedestrian realm. At the Vail d'Hebron, the use of asphalt, rubber
fires, wood, and metal in new ways expresses and provokes newacdvities. The
appearanceof graffiti, skateboarders, and boom boxes does not necessarily mean
that the park is in any way compromised; on the contrary, the presenceof these
everyday features acknowledges certain trends in youth culture while extending
the rangeof uses typically associated with parks.
Nonprogrammed use. Equipping the surfacewith services and fiirnishings that
can be appropriated and modified by the public enables a diverse and flexible
range of uses. Instead of comprising elements serving only one function, a
design that can accommodate many functions is both economical and enriching
of social space. Eduard Bru and Adriaan Geuze are two designers who are espe-
cially interested in making things and places that are indeterminate in their
functions and thereby allowtheir users to invent and claim spacefor themselves.
Such investment by the users subscquendy ensures a long and affectionate
occupation of public space,
Impermanence. Programand function are, perhaps, the most changeable aspects
of any city. Needs and desires can change overnight, and city administrators
must be able to respond quickly without massively overhauling entire tracts of
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land. Designing to create an indeterminate and propitious rangeof affordances
replaces the traditional fascination of designers with permanence with that of
the temporal and dynamic. TheOMA projects at la Villette and Melun-Senart
offer not only a designed landscape but also a framework capable of absorbing
future demands without diminishing the integrity of the project. Indeed, the
integrity of the project is predicated upon such changing demands, juxtaposing
condidons as a great montageof effects.
Movement. In popular culture, the instruments and spaces of mobilityespe-
cially the automobile and the freewayhave provided new sites of collective
life. A real challenge to urban design is to accept that infrastructure is as impor-
tant tu the vitahty and experience of the contemporary metropolis as the town
hall or square once was. At the Ronda deDalt, Bernardo da Sola exploited the
section of the site to create a new and public type of urban corridor, collecting,
distributing, and connecring a great range of users and funcdons. As we move
into the twenty-first century, oneof the primary roles of urban design will be the
reworkingof movement corridors as new vesselsof collectivelife.
The projects and ideas discussed above address the complexity and density of
reconstructing cities and landscapes today. The emphasis is on the extensive
reworking of the surfaceof the earth as a smooth, condnuous matrix that effec-
tively binds the increasingly disparate elements of our environment together.
This syntheticform of creadvity draws from all of the traditional disciplines of
landscape architecture, architecture, urban planning, and engineering. The
condidons these practices engagemobility, density, congesdon, instability
demand new techniques of practice, new modes of representation, and new
kinds of discussion and conceptualization. Such activities can no longer be said
to apply only to peripheral and derelict sites, as now even the most traditional
city centers involve the same issues. Cities everywhere are competing to retain
investment, capital, tax base, population, infrastructure, and amenities. The
function of design is not only to make cides attractive but also to make them
more adaptive, morefluid, more capableof accommodating changing demands
and unforeseen circumstances.
We are witnessing a recovery of certain landscape themes and techniques
that seemto have particular applicability to problems. First, of course,
landscape is the horizontal and continuous surface, the field that is best appre-
P ra gra m m in g th e U rban S urface
heiidcd in maps and plans. Here, plans arc ot particular significance because
they organize the relationships among parts and activities; all things come
together on the ground. But asecond useof landscape is the attention it draws to
processes of tbrmanon and thus to issuesof temporality, efficacy, and change.
That many landscape architects study and are inspired by ecology is especially
significant here, for ecology addresses the interrelationships of parts and
dynamic systems."
Also, landscape architects arc taught early on to appreciate larger regional
scales (watersheds, ecosystems, infrastructures, and settlement patterns, for
instance) as well as understanding smaller, more intimate places as part of the
larger framework. 'I'he surfaces they see are not just visual patterns but more
mutable and thickened topographies, systemic and alive. If landscape architec-
ture has been thought of as merely an art of amelioration, of secondary signifi-
cance to buildings and urban planning, then today it finds itself assuming a
more relevant and active role in addressing the regional and ecological ques-
tions that face societyquestions about place, time, and process.
In the aftermath ot the 1980sbuildingboom, the potential and significant
field of action today is lessthe design ot monuments and master plans than the
careful modification and aniculation of the urban- surface. The surface is
manipulated in two ways: as planar folds and smooth coniinuides, and as a field
that is grafted onto aset of newinstruments and equipment. In either case, the
surface becomes astaging ground for the unfoldingoffuture events. The surface
is not merely the venue for formal experiments but the agent tor evolving new
forms of social life.
The projects described above suggest howthe surface may support future
btiiklings and programs. Perhaps the synthesis ot landscape, architectural, and
urhanistic skills into ahybrid formof pracdce may allowfor the invention of
newly supple and reflexive built fabrics, new landscapes." Such dynamic sur-
face structurings may be the only hope oi withstanding die exces.sesof popular
culturerestless mobility, consumption, density, waste, spectacle, and infor-
mationwhile absorbing and redirecting the alternating episodes of concen-
tration and dispersal caused by the volatile movement of investment capital and
I wouUI like to thiink (ames Corner lor his many suggestions in finalizing this essay
I Many of the chemcs surrounding the shift fromobject to surface were presented and
discussed in asymposiumand exhibition called "Cityscape: The Urban Surtace,"
Alex Wall
organized by Alex Wall at the Graduate School of Fine Arts, University of Pcnnsy
vania, in April 1994. Participants included [ames Corner, Bill McDonald, Sulan
Kolatan, I.:auric Olin, Susan Nigra Snyder, Steve Kieran, anil Bob Geddes.
2 I draw this formulation from )ames Corner, "Field Operations," (unpublished lec-
ture notes). Sec also RemKoolhaas, "Whatever Happened to Urbanism?" in
S.M.L.XL (New York: Monacclli Press, 1995), 958-971; and Stan Allen "Infrastruc-
tural Urbanism," in Scroope 9(Cambridge: Cambridge University ArchicecCure
School, 1998), 71-79.
3 See J.S. Adams, ed., Association of American Geographers Comparatine Metropolitan
Analysis Project: Twentieth-Century Cities, vol. 4(Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1976);
and David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodemity (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwcll,
4 See David Harvey, Justice, Nature, and the Geography of Difference (Cambridge,
Mass.: Blackwcll, 1996).
5 See Rem Koolhaas, "The Generic City," inS,M,L,XL, 1238-1264; and Joel Garrcau,
Edge Cities: Life on the New Frontier (New York: Douhleday, 1991).
6 See Gilies Dclcu/ .e and Felix Guattari, "Rhizome," in.,4Thousand Plateaus: Capital-
ismand Schizophrenia (Minneapoli.s: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 3-2'i; and
Corner, "Field Operations."
7 See Vittorio Gregotti, "La Strada: Tracciato c Manufauo/ Thc Road: Layout and
Built Object," in Casabella 553-55^(lanuary-February 1989): 118.
S Victor Gruen, "Cityscape-Landscape," in Arts and Architecture (September 1955):
9 Superstudio and Moryami Studio, cds. Superstudio and Radicals (Tokyo: Japan Inte-
rior, 1982), 9-86.
10 See Archigram, "Instant City," in Archigram, ed. Peter Cook (London: Studio Vista,
1972), 86-101.
11 See Marixinnc Barziley, ed., Illnvention du Pare: Pare de la Villette, Paris, Concours
International (Paris: Graphite Editions, 1984).
12 See Koolhaas, S,M,L,XL, 894-939; and Jacques Lucan, ed.. RemKoolhaas/ OMA
(New York: Pnnceton Architectural Press, 1991), 86-95.
13 Sec Koolhaas, "Whatever Happened to Urbanism?"
14 See Koolhaas,5.M.L,XL, 972-989; and Lucan,Re,t, Koolhaas/ OMA, 114-117.
15 Gregotti, "The Road," 118.
16 See Antonio Font, "Edges and Interstices: The Ordering of the Borders of the New
Barcelona Ring Road," Quadcrtis 193 (1993): 112-119.
17 Sec Jacques Lucan, 'A Grand Boulevard for the Outskirts," inLotus 84(1995):
88-101; and Alessandro Rocca, "Chemetotf's Intcr-Suhurban," inLotus 84(1995):
18 Eduard Bru, "Untested Territories," Quadems 195(1993): 82-85. See also Josep
Parcerisa Bundo, "Vail d'Hebron: Metamorphosis of a Park," Lo/ y 77(1993): 6-17.
19 Bru, "Untested Territories," 83.
2 0 See Adriaan Geuze,jlrfn'i i a n Gesc/ Hij/ S (Rotterdam: 010Publishers, 1995); sec also
Bart Lootsma's essay "Synthetic Regionalization" in this collection.
21 Gerrie Andela, "Challenging Landscapes for Explorers: Estrangement and Reconcil-
iation in theWorkofWcsi8, " ^K A(.f2 (February, 1994): 38-49.
22 See Koolhaas, S,M,L,XL, 1210-1237; and Sanford Kwinter, "The Reinvention of
GeomQity"Assemblage 18(1996): 83-112.
23 See Foreign Office Architects, "Yokohama Port Terminal Competition," K/ 29
(1995): 17-21.
24 Ibid., 7.
P ro g ra m m i n g th e U rb a n S u rfa ce
25 Sec James Corner, "Ecology andLandscape as Agents of Creativity," in Ecological
Design andPlanning, cds. George Thompson andFrederick Stciner (New York; John
Wiley & Sons, 1997), 80-108.
26 SeeGreg Lynn, 'Architectural Curviiinearity: The Folded, theI^liani, theSupple," in
Aicliitectural Design Profile 102: Folding in Architecture (1993), 8-15; seealso Peter
Eisenman, "Unfolding Events,"\ nZone 1/2(New York: Urzone, 1986), 423-427,
27 Sec James Corner, "Ecology and Landscape," andalso "The Agency of Mapping," in
Mappings, ed. Oenis Cosgrove (London: Reaktion, 1998).
28 SeeI-ynn mArchitectural Design Profile 127: Architecture After Geometry (1997) and
Architectural Design Profile Hypersurface Architecture {]99H).